Near the end of this week's parashah, we find Yosef telling Pharaoh's
Cupbearer (40:15), "For indeed I was kidnaped from the land of the
Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing for them to have put me in the
pit." Why, asks R' Yehonatan Eyebschutz z"l (1690-1764; Central European
rabbi and rosh yeshiva and prolific author), did Yosef mention to the
cupbearer that he had been kidnaped from the land of the Hebrews (i.e.,
R' Eyebschutz explains: The pious men of old would, from time-to-time,
leave society and live in caves or other lonely places in order to
meditate on spiritual matters and distance themselves from sin. Thus we
read, for example, that the prophet cried (Yirmiyah 9:1), "If only someone
would give me a travelers' lodge in the wilderness . . ." Likewise, Rabbi
Shimon bar Yochai spent years in a cave. Was that the only place he could
find to hide from the Romans? Rather, he hid in a cave by choice, and he
therefore rose to greatness.
R' Eyebschutz continues: Yosef should have wanted to remain in prison,
where he was removed from society, serving Hashem in poverty and
privation. Indeed, we read about Yosef's imprisonment (in our parashah -
39:21), "Hashem was with Yosef." In contrast, when Yosef circulated in
society, his physical beauty lead him and others to temptation [as related
in our parashah and in Rashi to Bereishit 49:22].
Why, then, did Yosef want to leave prison? Because, he explained to
the cupbearer, his true place was in Eretz Yisrael. That is where a
person can achieve true spiritual growth. As long as Yosef remained in
prison, he had no hope of ever returning to the Holy Land. [As it turned
out, Hashem had other plans for Yosef.] (Ya'arot Devash Vol. I, No. 14)
"Now Yisrael loved Yosef more than all his sons since he was a
child of his old age, and he made him a ketonet pasim / fine
woolen tunic." (37:3)
Rabbeinu Machir z"l Hy"d (14th century) writes: "Pasim" is an acronym
for the four individuals or groups that persecuted Yosef: Potiphar, the
socharim / merchants, the Yishmaelim, and the Midyanim. (Avkat Rocheil)
R' Raphael Emanuel Chai Riki z"l (1688-1743; author of Mishnat
Chassidim and other works) offers another interpretation: "Pasim" is an
acronym for the four dreamers who changes Yosef's life: Pharaoh; the Salai
/ basket-man, an allusion to the baker who dreamed that birds were eating
bread out of a basket on his head; Yosef himself; and the Mashkeh /
cupbearer. The reason the baker is referred to anonymously as the
"basket-man" and not by his occupation of "baker" is because his dream
foreshadowed his disappearance from the world, i.e., his death. (Chosheiv
"So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father shamar /
kept the matter in mind (literally, `guarded the matter')."
Rashi z"l explains: "He awaited and looked forward to the time when
this would come to pass."
It is said in the name of R' Yisrael Ba'al Shem Tov z"l (founder of
the chassidic movement; died 1760) that it is in the same sense that King
Shlomo wrote (Kohelet 8:5), "Shomer mitzvah / One who 'guards' a mitzvah
will know no evil." This means that a person who is constantly looking
for and anticipating opportunities to perform mitzvot will experience
protection from evil. At a minimum, the Ba'al Shem Tov teaches, a person
should not permit a single day to pass without performing some mitzvah.
(Tzava'at Ha'Rivash No. 17)
R' Shalom Schwadron z"l (1912-1997; the Maggid of Yerushalayim)
related that he learned from the following story how one can turn even his
mundane daily activities into mitzvot:
One day, R' Schwadron was walking with R' Elya Lopian z"l (1872-1970;
one of the elders of the mussar movement) when they saw a Jewish worker
patching potholes in the street. R' Lopian said to R' Schwadron, "Look at
this Jew who is engaged full-time in the performance of a mitzvah,
specifically, the mitzvah of building Eretz Yisrael. Only one thing is
missing; he does not intend to do his work for the sake of performing a
mitzvah, but only to earn a living."
Similarly, said R' Schwardron, R' Yehuda Leib Chasman z"l (mashgiach
ruchani of the Chevron Yeshiva; died 1936) writes about a night watchman
who roams the city looking out for fires and other potential disasters.
The night watchman could turn his entire night into one long mitzvah, if
only his primary intent were to perform chessed for the townsfolk, while
the thought of receiving a salary was secondary. Unfortunately, most
night watchmen think only of their wages and lose out entirely on the
mitzvah they could be performing. (Quoted in Kol Chotzeiv)
"For indeed I was kidnaped from the land of the Hebrews . . ."
R' Moshe Zuriel shlita (former mashgiach ruchani of Yeshivat
Sha'alvim) writes: At first glance, the sin of Yosef's brothers was
kidnaping. However, some kabbalists say that the true severity of their
sin was due to the fact that they deprived a tzaddik of the opportunity to
live in Eretz Yisrael.
R' Zuriel continues: The Zohar Chadash teaches that the reason Bnei
Yisrael were in exile in Egypt for 210 years was that Yosef's 10 brothers
-- Binyamin did not participate -- forced Yosef to be separated from his
family for 22 years (10 x 22 = 220). From this, Hashem subtracted 10
years as compensation for the pain that the 10 brothers felt as a result
of dying outside of Eretz Yisrael, leaving a "sentence" of 210 years.
"Yet the Officer of the Cupbearers did not remember Yosef, but he
forgot him." (40:23)
Our Sages say that Yosef was punished for placing his reliance on the
cupbearer to bring about his rescue. Many commentaries ask: Is not a
person obligated to make an effort ("hishtadlut") to care for himself and
not sit back and wait for miracles? R' Baruch Sorotzkin z"l (1917-1979;
rosh yeshiva of the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland) answers: The obligation
of hishtadlut ends at the moment that a ray of salvation appears on the
horizon. As soon as one sees that G-d "remembers" him, one should cease
his efforts and rely on G-d. Here, Yosef should have recognized that his
entire encounter with the Egyptians and their dreams was for the purpose
of causing his rescue; therefore, he should not have asked the Egyptian to
rescue him. (Ha'binah Ve'ha'berachah)
"Yisrael said to Yosef, `Your brothers are pasturing in Shechem,
are they not? Come, I will send you to them.' . . . So he sent
him from the valley of Chevron, and he arrived at Shechem."
Rashi z"l comments: A place ready to be the scene of misfortunes;
there the sons of Yaakov sinned, there Dinah was mistreated, there the
kingdom of the House of David was divided, as it is written (Melachim I
12:1) "Rechavam went to Shechem . . ."
In Parashat Lech Lecha (12:6-7) we read that Avraham Avinu made
Shechem his first stop in Eretz Yisrael, and he built an altar there.
Rashi explains that Avraham prayed for his great-grandchildren who would
fight against Shechem.
R' Moshe Wolfson shlita (mashgiach ruchani of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in
Brooklyn, N.Y.) writes that the various tragic events that occurred in
Shechem are interrelated. He explains: It was in Shechem that Hashem
appeared to Avram (Avraham) and said, "To your offspring I will give this
land." Why? Because Yosef was the first Jew in history who was forcibly
exiled from Eretz Yisrael, and that incident began in Shechem.
Avraham was the first person who left Eretz Yisrael intending to
return. The halachah is that one who leaves the Holy Land intending to
return retains the status of a resident. For this reason, the Jewish
nation as a whole is considered to be resident in Eretz Yisrael at all
times. (Of course, R' Wolfson writes, no individual fulfills his mitzvah
to live in Eretz Yisrael unless he is physically there.) This status
results from the promise that Hashem made to Avraham at Shechem: "To your
offspring I will give this land."
Nevertheless, when one leaves Eretz Yisrael, the reality is that he is
no longer in G-d's "abode." This is what happened to Yosef. In a similar
sense, when Dinah left home to sightsee around Shechem, she left the
confines of Hashem's abode, i.e., Yaakov's home, to go went out into the
impure world. Notably, the initials of the words (34:1), "She went out --
Dinah, the daughter of Leah," are (in reverse) "levado" / "Alone." She
separated herself from Hashem and went alone. But, there is also an
allusion here to the verse (Yishayah 2:11), "Hashem levado / alone will be
exalted on that day." This refers to the time when the entire world will
be recognized as Hashem's world; there will no longer be one "abode" that
is His and one that appears not to be His.
Yosef did eventually return to Eretz Yisrael, but only after his
death. Where was he buried? In Shechem. Yosef's two sons, Menashe and
Ephraim, also were buried in Shechem. Not coincidentally, a midrash
states that they were the grandsons of Dinah and Shechem, for Dinah bore a
daughter who eventually grew-up in the house of Potiphar and married
Yosef. [Ed. note: R' Wolfson does not explain how the division of Eretz
Yisrael into a northern and southern kingdom relates to this theme. A
possible connection is the fact that the tribes that separated from the
Davidic dynasty were exiled long before the tribes that did not.] (Tzion
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Hamaayan needs your support! Please consider sponsoring Hamaayan in honor of a happy occasion or in memory of a loved one. The low cost of sponsorship is $36. Donations to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.